Genesis Musings

I love road trips. I love going new places and seeing new things. I also enjoy going to familiar spots and getting reacquainted. I love the focused conversations and times of quiet reflection. And although the journey can be trying, the destination makes it worthwhile. Genesis has been just such an excursion.

Creation. Fall. Redemption. Blessing. Hope. A Future. Imago dei. Genesis 3.15. The beginning of the Nation. Love. Mercy. Judgment. A familiar story with lots of twists and turns. The revealing of God’s character and man’s purpose. An amazing landscape and a world of possibility. Genesis remains one of my favorite books. One of the biggest takeaways for me this go round is that God is not in a hurry…He will accomplish His purposes in His timing, and He can work through the most unlikely of circumstances and people…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah.

But another challenging learning along the way came from reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, where he examines Genesis 22 and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Kierkegaard contrasts two kinds of knights and two potential approaches that Abraham could have taken to God’s request. The knight of resignation is willing to obey and sacrifice his joy and resign himself to a dismal, joyless existence because that’s what God’s asked him to do. The knight of faith believes the absurd…he is willing to obey, but does so not expecting to give up his joy, but receive it back in fuller measure. Abraham was the latter of the two. Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed the absurd, that he knew that God could bring Isaac back even from the dead…Abraham had no doubt that he would bring Isaac back down the mountain with him. It’s challenged me in my own thinking and my approach to ministry. Am I a knight of faith or resignation? Do I look at obedience as the death of joy, or the door to experiencing joy at an even deeper level? Do I live like a believe that God is for me, and wants what’s good for me (conformity to His Son), even when it may not seem like it at the time?

Coming to the end of a journey is always bittersweet. There are points along the path that all I’m hoping for is to be done, but then there’s that glimpse of something truly amazing that takes my breath away; I wish that the journey would never end. Our next road trip will be the book of Revelation (another favorite).

Until next time…stay salty.

 

I Had a Dream…

Joseph came from a long line of dreamers. Abraham had a vision of God passing through severed animals as a smoking oven and a flaming torch. Isaac was told not to go down to Egypt. Jacob saw a ladder with its top in the heavens and angels ascending and descending upon it. And now Joseph is given a dream. Well actually two dreams. Gen 37

We should probably back up a bit. Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. He’s the youngest in the clan next to his brother Benjamin (also Rachel’s son) who is born some time later. As the son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Joseph always had a special place in his dad’s heart; and Jacob was none too discreet about it. In fact, Jacob (now Israel) had an elaborate coat made for Joseph to highlight his status within the family. It appears that Israel’s intent is to give Joseph the right of the firstborn and his blessing. This does not sit well with his brothers who would all be passed over, and so they hated Joseph. And then Joseph has a dream.

In Joseph’s dream, he sees eleven sheaves of grain bowing down to his sheaf. He can’t wait to share the good news with his brothers…they are all going to one day bow down to him! Probably not a good idea given their hostile disposition toward him. Then he has a second dream: the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. Somehow Israel and Joseph’s mother are included in this sign of obeisance (although Rachel is gone). Joseph once again is compelled to share his dream, and once again the brothers are angered. This time Israel rebukes Joseph, although he keeps the matter in mind. You see Israel, too, has a had dreams in the past where God had made fantastic promises.

So, what are these two dreams? The first dream looks to be the first hint at the famine that will come upon Egypt and the circumstances under which the brothers will come and bow down to Joseph. The second dream is a little trickier. It’s not clear who the woman is who represents the moon. Could be Rachel, but she has already died. Maybe Leah or one of the maids? It’s interesting that John picks up the same imagery in Revelation 12 when he writes, “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she *cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.  And she gave birth to a son, a male child…” Could it be that Joseph is given a vision of the ultimate Seed of the Woman who will rule over Israel, making Joseph in this instance a type of Christ? It is interesting to consider that not only is there a promise of near-term deliverance through Joseph, but also far-term, final deliverance, not only for Jacob and his family, but for all Israel (and for all who would believe) through Jesus. Something to ponder.

And so God continues to carry out His plan of redemption. Although the road seems a bit winding and treacherous, and the end is not all too clear, God will be faithful to His promise and will deliver His people from bondage to sin and death through the Seed of the Woman, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, the Conquering Warrior King of Revelation 19, Jesus of Nazareth.

Until next time…stay salty.

Retribution

One of my favorite “dad” books is called Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis. A phrase that was particularly meaningful for me that Lewis uses in defining authentic manhood using medieval imagery was, “A knight (man) rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, looking to the reward.” It was impactful and easy to remember. And although it’s been a couple of years since we’ve done our “knight’s training”, the boys still remember the phrase. It makes me wonder about Jacob and his sons.

Gen 33-34. After two decades of being absent, Jacob finally returns to the land. As he does so, Esau comes with a band of 400 men to meet him, and Jacob is afraid. Never mind that God continually reminds him that He is on his side, Jacob still tends to see the world from a very earthy perspective. The meeting with Esau is a non-event, and Jacob ends up settling in Shechem where Abraham first settled in the land.

Life seems normal enough at first as Jacob buys a piece of property to settle on, but the situation sours quickly when his daughter, Dinah, is raped by Shechem, the prince of the land. When Jacob hears about it, he’s silent, waiting for his sons to return from the field. Meanwhile, Hamor, Shechem’s father, approaches Jacob to negotiate a marriage proposal between Shechem and Dinah. Hamor attempts to convince Jacob that a wedding would create a favorable alliance for his family and give them access to the land. Jacob remains silent as his two sons, Simeon and Levi, present terms…all the male Shechemites must be circumcised. Hamor tries to convince the townsfolk that circumcision is a minor concession given that the Shechemites will have access to all of Jacob’s property. An agreement is made, and all of the males are circumcised. Three days later, Simeon and Levi wipe out every man in town and take the rest as spoil. Finally Jacob speaks and rebukes his sons for putting the family in a precarious place in regards to the surrounding peoples.

This story is disturbing. Not only for the rape and the ensuing slaughter, but also for the actions, or better the refusal to act by Jacob. In this story, he is the epitome of passivity. Strange for the “heel-grabber” who is constantly fighting for himself to refuse to fight for his daughter. Had he stepped in, the outcome may have been exactly the same…it’s unlikely that Hamor would have handed over his son, or that the inhabitants of Shechem would have allowed harm to befall their favored prince…but the means would have been different. Instead of deception and murder, Jacob might have had the opportunity to see God fight for him and through him, much like He did with Abraham against the four kings. But now his sons Simeon and Levi will have to realize the consequences of their hot anger and merciless retribution. Makes me wonder what I’m teaching my own boys through my activity and inactivity…

Until next time…stay salty.

A Questionable Blessing

I’m the father of three boys. They are great fun and such a blessing to me. They truly are my pride and joy in many respects. But I don’t know that a day goes by that there isn’t at least one fight…usually multiple ones. It usually starts with a friendly (or not-so-friendly) competition that quickly devolves into an all-out brawl. It drives my wife crazy, especially when I tell her it’s normal for boys (I had five brothers, and we fought constantly). She’s convinced that we are doing something wrong as parents, but that much testosterone makes for a potent combination. When I talk to other dads, my suspicions are confirmed. Sibling rivalry is a part of our DNA.

Genesis 27-28. Esau has already given up his birthright. As the eldest son (even if only by a few moments), he had a right to a double portion of the family inheritance. The birthright was both a privilege and a responsibility. The double portion gave the eldest son the means to care for single women within his household, as well as to conduct the family business. In the case of Abraham’s clan, it would also theoretically identify the heir of the Abrahamic blessing, the one through whom the nations/families of the earth would be blessed. In trading his birthright for a bowl of stew, Esau takes himself out of the line of blessing. Jacob now has the birthright. And having secured the birthright, Jacob proceeds to acquire his father’s blessing as well.

Normally the birthright and the blessing went together, and both would have gone to the eldest son. But in this case, even though Esau had given up his birthright, he was still in line to receive his father Isaac’s blessing. The scenario in Genesis 27 is a curious look into the dysfunction of the family of promise. Before Esau and Jacob were born, Rebekah was told that Jacob would be the heir. It’s unclear from the narrative whether this information was shared with Isaac or not. If it was, Isaac’s decision to bless Esau would be in direct rebellion against what God had said, and Rebekah’s actions in orchestrating the deception are a direct response to safeguard God’s choice in light of Isaac’s rebellion. If not, then Isaac is oblivious to the prophecy, and Rebekah takes matters into her own hands to benefit her favorite son. Again, the narrative isn’t clear, but we are told that Esau was Isaac’s favorite, while Jacob was Rebekah’s.

It’s a familiar story. Isaac asks Esau to hunt game and prepare a meal for him so that he can bless him. When Esau heads out, Rebekah, having overheard the conversation, devises a scheme whereby Jacob, posing as Esau, will trick Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of Esau. The deception is quite elaborate, and a convincing disguise succeeds despite Isaac’s suspicions. Jacob receives the blessing seemingly in the nick of time as Esau comes in from the hunt. Esau is understandably upset when he learns that Jacob has stolen his blessing. Afterwards, learning of Esau’s murderous intents toward Jacob, Rebekah asks Isaac to send Jacob away to find a wife from her relatives. Isaac complies and repeats the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, who is now the confirmed heir of the promise.

Looking back over the story, God’s purposes are accomplished…He had foretold that Jacob would be the heir…but at what cost. The carnage left behind in attempting to bring about God’s purposes in their own ways destroyed the family. Instead of trusting God, Rebekah trusts herself. Instead of obeying God (assuming Isaac is aware), he is ruled by his appetites. Thinking back to Abraham’s journey, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that deception and self-reliance are family traits. I would agree, but that I think that they are family traits that we can trace back to the garden. They are characteristics that infect us all. This story of Esau and Jacob reminds me that God can and does use dysfunctional, messed-up people to accomplish His perfect will. As one of those, I’m glad He does.

Until next time…stay salty.

A Promise Repeated

What happens to great organizations when their founder – the guy or gal with the original idea and the burning passion to see that idea realized – is no longer around? Whether it’s a company like Apple or a service organization like Star Bucks or a church like Willow Creek, how do those who follow maintain the vision and momentum in the void left by such charismatic personas as Steve Jobs (Apple), Jerry Baldwin (Starbucks) or Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church)? Without a strategic plan in place and a strong personality to follow, the idea fades and the organization becomes a shadow of its former self.

Genesis 25-26. Abraham had come to the end of his journey here on planet earth. The amazing promises that God had made to him were only just beginning to be realized (albeit to a limited extent). And now the great patriarch fades into the background. What will happen to the Abrahamic Covenant, and more specifically that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed? Enter Isaac. Moses gives us the briefest of sketches of this man’s life, but the picture he paints of Isaac makes it clear that this is God’s choice of Abraham’s successor.

We find Isaac at Beer-lahai-Roi, when Abraham’s servant and Rebekkah come from Paddan-Aram, a place whose name reminds us that God sees, the same place we find him as he prays for Rebekkah’s infertility. He exhibits the faith that marked Abraham’s life in building altars to worship. He listens to God’s voice and follows His direction (at times). And the events of his life mirror some of the same experiences that Abraham lived through…barren wife, nomadic lifestyle, great wealth, respect of others/acknowledgment of God’s blessing, deception involving his wife, choice between sons, and the LORD’s pronouncement of the covenant. And so Isaac, the son of promise, will be the bearer of the hope of Genesis 3.15 and the blessor of the nations for a new generation.

One thing that stands out from the Isaac narrative and those that follow: God is the One who safeguards the promise. He is the One who will provide the Genesis 3.15 Seed of the Woman. He will involve folks like Adam and Noah, Abraham and Isaac, and others along the way, but ultimately He Himself will bring about deliverance by sending His Son who will give His life in crushing the serpent so that all those who believe in Him may have an eternal relationship with Him.

Great organizations come and go. This side of eternity, not a one of them will last. But praise God His kingdom continues on in His church, and He will bring final salvation and restoration to a fallen and broken world.

Until next time…stay salty.

Mission Impossible

Have you ever been asked to do something so seemingly outrageous and beyond your ability that you’re only option was to pray? Abraham’s servant (Let’s call him Eliezer.) can relate. In Genesis 24, Abraham requests that his most trusted servant, Eliezer, take an oath to find a wife for his son Isaac among Abraham’s relatives back in Paddan Aram. In an age before google maps and on-board navigation, finding the area where Abraham’s relatives lived would be difficult enough, but add to that the likelihood that once said maiden is found that she would be willing to leave her family and travel to a distant country to marry a man she’s never met, and you really do have an impossible mission.

But Eliezer heads out anyway. As the journey begins, he prays that the LORD would be merciful to his master Abraham and grant him (Eliezer) success on his quest. He asks for an unusual sign to designate the chosen mate, (not unlike what Gideon asked for hundreds of years later with the fleece) which was that the woman to whom he asked a drink of water would in turn offer to water his camels as well. To us that may not sound like a remarkable request, but given the fact that watering the camels could have been a very arduous task requiring several hours worth of work, the willingness of a young maiden to undertake it would indeed be noteworthy.

Lo and behold Rebekah shows up. She offers not only to get Eliezer a drink, but also to water his camels as well! He dares to hope. Then he finds out that she is a relative of Abraham’s! Looks like success. But now comes the tricky part where he needs to ask Rebekah (and permission from her brother Laban and mother Bethuel) to return with him. Will she do it? Without hesitation, Rebekah says, “I will go with him.” Much like Abraham’s willingness to leave his family and go, now Rebekah will do the same thing. Eliezer is so blown away by the LORD’s hand at work, that he repeats the story several times in the narrative, and the faithfulness of God is on display.

My wife questioned whether asking for a sign is evidence of a lack of faith…good question. But I believe that the willingness to follow God and do what He wanted motivated Eliezer to request a sign. The same is true for us. The next time we are given an impossible mission, and our our desire is to follow where God is leading, but it doesn’t seem clear, may we ask for a sign, for clear direction for the path ahead. And then let’s celebrate God’s faithfulness in directing our steps.

Until next time…stay salty.

Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Day. A day around the world we set aside to observe God’s gracious provision in our lives. When I think about what I’m thankful for, my family immediately comes to mind. God has blessed me with an amazing wife and three incredibly gifted sons, each one outstanding in his own way. I can’t imagine life without any one of them. I definitely can’t imagine choosing to give them up, which makes me wonder at Abraham’s willingness to obey God when He asks him to make the ultimate sacrifice…

Genesis 22. Abraham waited approximately 25 years between the time God first promised him that he would be the father of many nations and the time that Isaac, the son of promise was born. Along the way, Abraham’s faith journey has been sporadic at best. Up to this point in the story we have not seen the paragon of faith that he ultimately will become. We’ve seen a man struggling to realize what God has promised him. Pharaoh. Hagar. Ishmael. Abimelech. And now finally Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s son, is born. God has worked a miracle, bringing life out of Sarah’s dead womb.

The fulfillment of what God has covenanted is within view. Then God makes a heart-stopping request. “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and sacrifice him on the mountain which I will show you.” It must have taken his breath away, but Abraham does not hesitate. Surprising after the roller-coaster ride of his spiritual pilgrimage. But his faith has somehow grown and solidified with the birth of his son, and now he was willing to trust that God will somehow still fulfill His promise, even if Isaac is killed. Hebrews gives us some insight – Abraham believed God was able to raise Isaac even from the dead. So Abraham was able to see beyond the physical to the spiritual, that physical death was not the end of the story. For those who trust in the Lord, death is merely a transition. And although Abraham was willing to be obedient, God spared Isaac and stayed Abraham’s hand. God was testing to see whether or not Abraham would trust in Him…whether his hope was in God or in the promise of God. And Abraham passed.

I wonder if I could have trusted God in that moment. So often I fear that my hope is in the blessings of God rather than in God Himself. I cling so tightly to the things of this world and the good gifts that He’s given me that many times they can become idols that keep me from Him. I pray that God would give me the courage to trust Him no matter the circumstance; and the desire for Him, and Him alone. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Until next time…stay salty.

Decisions, Decisions

Several years ago, just before my son Jack was born, I worked for a multi-billion dollar company headquartered in downtown Houston. At the time, we lived in The Woodlands area about 40 miles north. The commute everyday was a killer, and I just wanted to get closer to home so that I could have more time with my growing family. My job offered incredible benefits and a flexible work environment. I enjoyed the folks I worked with and really had no complaints…except that it was too far away. So I began to talk to recruiters, my primary criteria being that it was closer to home. A few months later, a job came along that would cut my commute in half. Benefits were lousy compared to what I had. The pay was not that much better. And it was not a good fit for my skill set. But it was closer to home. It was a bad move. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back it should have been obvious. It ended up being the only job I’ve ever been fired from. It led to a series of four different jobs in a two year span of time. My resume took a serious hit.

Have you ever been there? A bad decision that turns into a string of bad decisions that lead down a divergent path to the one you were on. Abram can relate.

There is a famine in the land of Canaan that results in an unplanned trip to Egypt. A seemingly innocent lie about Sarai his wife, finds Abram in a precarious situation. Pharaoh takes notice of Sarai, and she becomes his wife. Not what Abram had planned at all. But God rescues him and curses Pharaoh and his people. Abram leaves a richer man, but not unscathed by the experience. He allowed his wife to be taken by another man, and that has consequences.

Fast forward. God has promised Abram some fantastic things – real estate, lots of descendants, a great name, and the unique position of being a blessor of the the nations. The Genesis 3:15 Seed of the woman will come through his line.

Abram has a foothold in the land. He has experienced a taste of the blessing. But he still doesn’t have a son. So it’s time to make things happen. Plan A, adopt a servant to become his heir. God says, “No, but you will have a son from your own body.” OK. Plan B, (several years later and still no son), how about Hagar as a surrogate mother for their son. Hagar would bear Abram’s son, then Sarai would adopt him. Screaming red lights. This is not a good decision. But Abram ignores the warning signs and goes along with the plan. It leads to great strife within the household and the expulsion of Hagar. Abram abdicates his responsibility to lead. And the original bad decision to go to Egypt is revisited as an Egyptian maid becomes his concubine.

Finally God offers Plan C. He becomes more explicit with His instructions to Abram. He and Sarai will have a son. It should have been understood. Genesis 2. Adam says of the woman whom God has created, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.” Moses adds the commentary, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife. And the two shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” The original promise that God made to Abram was meant for the two of them. Adding Hagar to the mix confused the two becoming one. And it caused a great deal of problems for the couple.

Although Abram takes a circuitous route to get there, he finally arrives at the place of promise. Choosing to do things his own way resulted in a great deal of pain and heartache. It would have been much easier trusting God all along…easier to say than do. So many times in my own life I’ve looked back thinking, “If I’d only waited here, or done that there…” but God still uses the detours to mold and shape us (if we will let Him) and to make us who He wants us to be. It’s interesting that in the midst of Abram’s wilderness experience, God uses Hagar to remind him of His character…Hagar’s son is to be named Ishmael because the LORD had heard her affliction. Hagar called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees me”. God hears. God sees. God cares.

Until next time…stay salty.